As my teenage daughter will be the first to tell you, I do not know enough about the rap genre. My appreciation crested at NWA and Grandmaster Flash. However, I have always been intrigued by the business side or rap and hip-hop, with its Byzantine system of allegiances, turf wars, conspiracy theories, and (on a more mundane level) some unusually structured record deals.
I have been following the recent stories about Nashville’s best-known rapper, Young Buck (David Darnell Brown). His story is well-known; he dropped out of high school to sign with Cash Money Records and ultimately signed with mega-rapper 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records. Young Buck was featured on 50-Cent’s very successful debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and had his own releases, Straight Outta Cashville in 2004 and Buck The World in 2007. However, at some point he apparently had some sort of falling out with 50 Cent, which led to a hiatus in his recording career. All of this is detailed in a recent article in the Nashville Scene. Shortly after the article was published, Brown’s home was raided by IRS agents seizing assets because of his failure to pay taxes. All this lead to his filing bankruptcy in August. The bankruptcy itself is instructive. Mr. Brown, at 29 years old, owes over $212,000 in back taxes, two mortgages totaling around $685,000, and miscellaneous other debts. I really don’t know how successful Young Buck was in his big earning years, but this is some serious debt. He listed assets of $5,095,293. However, upon examination, $5,000,000 of this figure was apparently the expected recovery from a lawsuit he has recently filed against his former business associates, including 50 Cent. I do not know all of the intricacies of bankruptcy law, but I know this will not count as a tangible asset until he receives a judgment against the defendants. I do know that bankruptcy law allows a debtor to reject executory contracts and Mr. Brown will presumably use this to get out of his uncomfortable alliance with G-Unit. What also came to my attention was Brown’s intention to pay his creditors $12,500 per month from his “employer” Cashville Records. I could not find much information about Cashville Records, but from press reports, it sounds like it is Brown’s own label. I don’t know how his distribution works or what kind of money his label Cashville is netting on a monthly basis, but I do hope he is indeed able to pay his creditors $12,500 per month and have a successful Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A lot of Chapter 13 bankruptcies fail and are converted the Chapter 7 bankruptcies. The real moral to this story can be found in Mr. Brown’s recent statement to MTV News:
“I have a new team in place, but I am also paying full attention now," he added. "Nothing like this will ever happen again. This is a huge wake-up call for all entertainers to stay on top of your own trusted employees and team members, and replace anyone that was put in place by your record label if the situation you have goes sour. This IRS situation came about because I trusted accountants, lawyers and managers to handle my business for me while I focused on making music. From now on, I am going to stay on top of my own business.”
This is a true and important message for artists, no matter what genre or where they are on the income strata: pay attention.